Commentary Magazine


"Sexgate"

To the Editor:

I hesitate to disagree with Norman Podhoretz [“ ‘Sexgate,’ the Sisterhood, and Mr. Bumble,” June]. On so many issues, and on so many previous occasions, he has been right. Whether he is right now in saying that the American people are not experiencing moral decline, we will know soon enough. I hope he is right!

William J. Bennett
Empower America
Washington, D.C
.

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To the Editor:

Having just read “ ‘Sexgate,’ the Sisterhood, and Mr. Bumble,” I am a little disappointed. Norman Podhoretz is one of our most eloquent, lucid, and trenchant spokesmen for conservative values, and I do not disagree with anything substantive in the article. But it has some flaws. For one thing, the sketchy discussion of the movie An Officer and a Gentleman and the TV show Ally McBeal, instead of “provid[ing] us with revealing clue[s] to the complexity of the moral condition of the nation,” as Mr. Podhoretz suggests, winds up trivializing the subject and adding a gossipy quality to his arguments.

My second point is that in his discussion of the “sisterhood,” though Mr. Podhoretz, at least for the most part, avoids name-calling, emotion seems to run away with him. Understandable as this may be, it gives the article a breathless, angry, overexcited quality that tends to undermine its objectivity and credibility.

It sometimes seems as if Mr. Podhoretz is preaching to the choir and therefore does not feel the need to supply verifying material. At times his points lack the depth of background history or analysis they need to make them more convincing. These qualities are the very ones that usually separate Mr. Podhoretz from his contemporaries.

I do not have any argument with the truths Mr. Podhoretz tells, merely how they are told here. The article is otherwise excellent and badly needed. This country needs many more voices like Mr. Podhoretz’s to achieve some semblance of balance. His latest piece is a just and necessary response to the unbelievable hypocrisy and intellectual and moral dishonesty masquerading as mainstream thought that are so common today on the radical Left. Someone must stand up and say that the emperor has no clothes, and I thank Norman Podhoretz for doing just that.

Paul Groben
Houston, Texas

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To the Editor:

Rather than issues of sexism, the sexual proclivities of the President, or Mr. Bumble’s concept of misguided laws, what seems once again at stake here is the abuse and misuse of power.

Men and women are not different from one another when it comes to the lust for power. They want what they want and are willing to do, and say, anything to get it. Women are far from innocent; they have used sex as a route to power forever. Those who were truly sharp brought leaders down through sex or used it to help transfer power to another man of their choice. Perhaps the most vital concept that feminists (pretty and plain) helped us understand is that we can now transfer power to ourselves.

Neither Anita Hill, nor Paula Jones, nor Kathleen Willey understood that one cannot get what one wants today by whining, complaining, or even pointing the finger of blame at issues that are clearly sexual.

What some people (e.g., Monica Lewinsky) want is simply to bask in power. Others want the ring of power for themselves. To do that they must knock someone off the power pedestal.

Bill Clinton’s foes, unable to challenge the President on anything he has done politically, have turned instead to sophomoric moralizing in the hope that the public will be outraged enough to bring him down. This is not working. His sexual behavior is simply not our business, and we know it.

Kenneth Starr would have us believe otherwise, and his personal vendetta against Clinton, at great public expense, seems to have led him to the misuse and abuse of his investigative authority—and all without evident result. When one individual can “do a McCarthy” with the law on his side, our rights as individuals are in serious jeopardy.

Perhaps Mr. Podhoretz’s unchecked assumption of Clinton’s guilt and his political disagreements with Clinton lead him to overlook this abuse-of-power issue, which would normally agitate the conscience of a conservative like him.

Diana Rosen
Sausalito, California

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To the Editor:

Although I always enjoy the acuity and perception of Norman Podhoretz’s articles and usually agree with them, I must take issue with “ ‘Sexgate,’ the Sisterhood, and Mr. Bumble.” Surely Mr. Podhoretz must realize that the pursuit of power is the basis of the feminist movement. Specifically, it is pursuit of the power feminists perceive to be held by the leaders of the cultural status quo: the conservatives, so to speak. Thus feminists are far less likely to bash a quasi-liberal like Clinton than a political conservative.

One’s cultural belief system is the primary source for providing meaning and value in life. Its debasement is a terrible blow to any individual or group because it strikes at the essence of one’s existence. Isn’t the fact that Clinton’s persona is viewed as threatening to core conservative cultural values the true reason he is so vilified?

Bruce Porter
Venice, California

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To the Editor:

As an Orthodox Jew and heir to a rabbinical Orthodox tradition on both sides of my family, I found Norman Podhoretz’s article both welcome and unwelcome. First, let me thank him for all his brilliant articles on the perverse movements afflicting American society. My problem, however, is that in his arguments he has not brought to bear the powerful Jewish heritage, the Torah.

His detailed criticism of the women’s movement is mostly on target, but why resort to noxious speech (even in quotation)? Why adopt feminist techniques in order to fight them? It really is not necessary. The fight Mr. Podhoretz is carrying out should be fought on a Jewish plane, not in the muck of those whom he resorts to quoting.

Torah Judaism makes clear that women, in spite of being subject to men, are spiritually superior. In Genesis, Sarah was on a higher prophetic level than Abraham. Proverbs instructs us to listen to the Torah of the mother, not the father. In Judaism, it is the mother, not the father, who determines whether the children are Jewish. Yet given all that, man is still the master. God is always spoken of, correctly, in a masculine sense.

Conservatism should emphasize moral values. I respectfully submit that Norman Podhoretz should use the unique perspective of the Jewish heritage to promote those values and attack the licentious perversity of American society.

Moses Mordecai
Twersky
Providence, Rhode Island

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s article is a comprehensive critique of sexual harassment, but it contains two errors. The first is really the error of the judge Mr. Podhoretz quotes who, in dismissing Paula Jones’s lawsuit, referred to a “purported expert with a Ph.D. in education and counseling.” I received a master’s in marriage, family, and child-counseling (MFCC) from a major university. The program was in the department of education. Later I obtained a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Among the best therapists I have seen are MFCC’s and social workers, who often have more empathy and involvement with their patients than either psychologists or psychiatrists.

The second error is Mr. Podhoretz’s. He refers to sexual aversion, which Paula Jones claims to have developed as a result of her experience with Bill Clinton, as a “newly invented disease” and a “preposterous diagnosis.” A century ago Freud described cases of sexual and other problems stemming from prior sexual abuse. Sexual-aversion disorder is listed in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the standard for psychological diagnoses, and was also listed in the previous edition. The problem is thus neither new, nor invented, nor preposterous.

Why should one be surprised if, in such an emotionally-charged area as sex, a traumatic experience causes aversion? In reality, childhood sexual abuse, rape, sexual battery (which Paula Jones claims to have suffered), and unhappy love affairs can each be followed by aversion to sex that can last years or a lifetime.

I was not in the hotel room, so I cannot say whether Paula Jones’s accusations against Clinton are true. But I can say that the symptoms she reportedly describes are relatively common and can be caused by similar traumas.

Stefanie Auerbach
Stolinsky
Beverly Hills, California

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To the Editor:

Many thanks to Norman Podhoretz for another blockbuster, long anticipated and most welcome. I think it is worthwhile to emphasize two points that seem to sustain Bill Clinton’s apparently continuing popularity. The first is a combination of economic prosperity and political indifference. While Clinton may not be given much credit for the favorable economic numbers, no one wishes to rock the boat. A wealth of new business orders or a busy professional practice are powerful incentives to ignore the sexual shenanigans going on in the White House. It is not surprising, then, that Clinton maintains a certain degree of popularity among men.

The response of the “sisterhood” and of women in general should also come as no surprise. It is a question of sexual attractiveness. The President is naturally seductive. He is tall, reasonably good looking, has charm, charisma, and a shameless ability to lie with a straight face. These are winning qualities, especially in this age of television.

Paul Rosenthal
Tarzana, California

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To the Editor:

I agree completely with every aspect of Norman Podhoretz’s “ ‘Sexgate,’ the Sisterhood, and Mr. Bumble.” It is the best thing I have yet seen on the Clinton sex scandal.

While I appreciate its many fine points, I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Podhoretz’s brief comments on pop culture developed in connection with An Officer and a Gentleman and Ally McBeal. I hope he will consider expanding his brief remarks on these matters into a full-length article. In so doing, he could contribute importantly to our understanding and even to our ability to influence the synthesis he sees taking place.

Jonathan Burack
Stoughton, Wisconsin

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To the Editor:

Hats off to Norman Podhoretz for his excellent “ ‘Sexgate,’ the Sisterhood, and Mr. Bumble.” I myself have had trouble attempting to place a moral label on our nation as, on the one hand, I observe a religious revival sweeping the country while, on the other, I wince at the entertainment industry succumbing to presenting anything that sells.

Mr. Podhoretz’s thesis that “there are two audiences, or even two nations, out there—one traditionalist and one liberationist” is right on the money. I, too, see a gradual, subtle turn to the Right, though I cannot provide an exact definition of the Right.

John Glass
Guadalajara, Mexico

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To the Editor:

I have just finished reading Norman Podhoretz’s brilliant article on the present state of sexual harassment in the United States. Mr. Podhoretz, you have done a noble deed. Congratulations.

Walter J. Schloss
New York City

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Norman Podhoretz writes:

Like William J. Bennett, I too hope I am right in arguing that the response to the Clinton sex scandals does not point to a general moral decline among the American people. For many years the American people were vilified for sinning against the values of the Left, and it disheartens me to see them now being hit from the other direction by some of my conservative friends (Mr. Bennett by no means being alone in this).

I regret having disappointed so friendly a reader of my work as Paul Groben, and perhaps I should have made an already rather long article even longer by being less “sketchy” in my account of what I think the popular culture tells us about the state of things out there. But I find myself a little puzzled by his complaint that I failed to supply “verifying material” or “background history and analysis” in the other sections of the piece. I thought I had done just that by going back to the beginning in my account of the issues involved and in quoting so many statements about them.

I agree with Diana Rosen and Bruce Porter about the importance of the “lust for power” in the feminist movement, but in my judgment there is much more to say about the sisterhood than that, and I tried to say some of it. Where I disagree with Diana Rosen entirely is in her attack on Kenneth Starr. As I have made clear on numerous occasions, I oppose the institution of the Independent Counsel, and I regret that the Democrats did not abolish it when they had the chance (now they regret it too). But whereas the Iran-contra counsel Lawrence Walsh, who (as we now know from one of his former assistants, Jeffrey Toobin, among other sources) truly did abuse his power by working not to get at the truth but to get various individuals, Kenneth Starr has been the soul of prosecutorial scrupulousness. He has been trying to determine whether Bill Clinton in effect was paid bribes when he was governor of Arkansas and if, as President, he then committed and/or suborned perjury. That this is our business should be apparent even to people who think that his sexual behavior isn’t, though it seems to me very revealing that Diana Rosen, like the feminists I wrote about, is willing to give him a free pass here. Indeed, one feminist journalist declared that, in return for Clinton’s support of abortion, she would be happy to do unto him what Monica Lewinsky evidently was in the habit of doing.

The reason I make much less use of Jewish sources than Moses Mordecai Twersky would like is that I usually address myself to an audience—both Jewish and non-Jewish—for whom such sources cut little or no ice, to put it mildly. But like Maimonides (l’havdil a thousand times over), I believe that secular reasoning is capable of arriving at many (not all) the truths and commandments of revelation (and only seven of those commandments, after all, apply to the “sons of Noah”). As for the “noxious speech” I quoted, I did so in this article (and also in some other pieces I have written) because there are instances (the writings of the Marquis de Sade or Erica Jong’s remark about the President) when neither paraphrase nor description can convey the full impact or the character of the ideas under examination and attack. It is also important to show people by direct quotation that when I use a word like “pornographic,” I am neither exaggerating nor being prissy.

Having had some acquaintance of my own, mostly via the printed page, with the type of therapist Stefanie Auerbach Stolinsky defends, I am not convinced by her anecdotal evidence that the judge in the Paula Jones case was wrong in speaking so dismissively about the credentials of the “expert witness” who testified about “sexual aversion.” Nor would I any longer trust what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association says about this or anything else—not after the way the APA allowed political pressures (and politically-correct ideas) to turn itself upside down on the issue of homosexuality. As for “sexual aversion” itself, Stephanie Stolinsky (or rather, Freud) may well have a point when it comes to the sexual abuse of small children. But Paula Jones was no child when she walked into Bill Clinton’s hotel suite that day, and so far as I am aware, no evidence was presented to show that anything that may have happened to her there damaged her sex life thereafter. It certainly did not prevent her from getting married.

It goes without saying, finally, that I thank Paul Rosenthal, Jonathan Burack, John Glass, and Walter J. Schloss for their generous words.

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